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Organic farmers fear invasion of megagrowers

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- The growth of organic farming has some small producers worried that they might be gobbled up by giant food companies that are also going organic.

Companies such as H.J. Heinz Co., General Mills Inc. and Frito Lay are getting into the organic market to take advantage of a new national law that will give organic products a stamp of approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The logo means the item contains no genetically modified material, no irradiation, and few, if any, chemicals or products.

When the law goes into effect Oct. 21, it will be a victory for California farmers, but one that comes with skepticism.

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Some worry that offering more organic foods at cheaper prices will drive out small farmers, and others worry that the government may protect corporate agribusiness rather than smaller operations.

"In early years, we were trying to woo bigger companies and they wouldn't have anything to do with us," said Warren Weber, who started growing organic lettuce in Northern California in the 1970s. "Now they're embracing it, but you've got a lot of people who are very hostile to the industrialization of the organic farmer."

For big food companies, the organic market means money. Last year, consumers spent $11 billion on organic foods and the industry has seen several years of near 20 percent growth.

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